Footnote: Voting this Election Year
Archbishop Sample, in his latest email, has asked us all to read the new version of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship issued by the US Bishops this election year, and I urge you to read it, too. It’s been a controversial document this year, but I think if you read it closely you’ll be both challenged and encouraged, whatever your political affiliations. It doesn’t tell you how to vote. It gives you a detailed and nuanced way of thinking about the choices we each of us have to make according to our own consciences and in light of the full range of Catholic social teaching. I think it’s a very good document.
The archbishop has also asked us to read, and I also want to recommend, very strongly, another document the bishops have put out this year, reflecting these same ideas, Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate, a document about “making room in your heart for those with whom you may disagree,” as the bishops put it, a document about “recognizing that each one of us is a beloved child of God and to respond in love to that reality,” and not just in the abstract but by taking this particular three-part pledge:
- Civility: to recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.
- Clarity: to root my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening. I will stand up for my convictions and speak out when I witness language that disparages others’ dignity, while also listening and seeking to understand others’ experiences.
- Compassion: to encounter others with a tone and posture which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood.
As a deacon, and as your brother in Christ, I urge you all to make this pledge.
Peace to you, in Our Lord Jesus Christ
Quotes from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2020
US Catholic Bishops
In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.
The Church’s teaching is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means. As we all seek to advance the common good—by defending the inviolable sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, by promoting religious freedom, by defending marriage, by feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, by welcoming the immigrant and protecting the environment— it is important to recognize that not all possible courses of action are morally acceptable. We have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound. Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.
Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually.
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience
that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.